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Column: Don’t force groups to disclose donors

Revelations about the Internal Revenue Service targeting conservative groups have raised important questions about the Obama administration’s commitment to the First Amendment. Yet there is ample evidence to suggest that the culture of intimidation in which these tactics were allowed to flourish goes well beyond one agency or a few rogue employees.

For years, administration officials have used the power of the federal government to isolate their opponents. Meanwhile, the unionized employees who populate the IRS and other agencies across the country routinely take their cues from union bosses, whose political donations and speeches show their support for the White House. When it comes to rewarding friends and punishing enemies, the IRS is not alone.

Recent efforts to revive the so-called Disclose Act suggest that these tactics are alive and well in Washington. This bill, which would force grass-roots groups to make their member and donor lists public, may seem benign to some. But as a longtime defender of the First Amendment, I have always seen it for what it is: a backdoor effort to discourage those who disagree with the Obama administration from participating in the political process.

The abuses at the IRS – which include selective sharing with left-wing journalists of confidential information about conservative groups – is just the kind of thing the Disclose Act was designed to enable.

The spread of the speech police under the Obama administration has long been apparent. We all saw the president’s re-election team using the politics of intimidation, with old-school “enemies lists” and explicit attacks on groups and other private citizens. At the same time, the administration has been extremely creative in employing throughout the federal government the sorts of intimidation tactics that were used at the IRS.

Democratic commissioners at the Federal Election Commission, for instance, have pushed for more than two years for a rule that would compel third-party groups to reveal their donors. Democratic commissioners at the Federal Communications Commission support a similar rule for disclosing the donors to groups airing advertisements on issues of concern to the public. This is on the heels of the FCC approving a rule last year that requires broadcasters to list the names of groups that pay for, or want to pay for, ads online. And the Securities and Exchange Commission is considering requiring publicly held companies to disclose political activities.

White House staffers have gotten in on the act. The president’s lawyers circulated a draft executive order in 2011 that would have required anyone bidding for a government contract to disclose political donations. The message was clear: If you want a government contract, be careful which causes or candidates you support because the White House will know.

These tactics are straight out of the left-wing playbook: Expose your opponents to public view, release the liberal thugs and hope the public pressure or unwanted attention scares them from supporting causes you oppose. This is what the administration has done through federal agencies such as the FCC and the FEC, and it’s what proponents of the Disclose Act plan to do with donor lists.

Oddly, some on the left are now arguing that the IRS scandal is reason to revive the Disclose Act. But if this scandal has taught us anything, it is that Washington’s ability to target individuals and groups is already too expansive. We should be looking at ways to limit, not expand, the government’s ability to target people because of their beliefs and the causes they support. And we should take a serious look at the culture that enabled this scandal.

(Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is a Republican from Kentucky.)

Legacy Comments13

McConnell is correct in what he writes. Just the fact that people bidding for government contracs would be denied a fair shot based on their political contributions is chilling. I see progressives here complaining about conservative Pacs yet for years, unions, foundations, progressive groups and the mainstream press have perverted the entire election process. The reason for such chagrin from progressives is the fact that the playing field is a bit more level and they just can't have that.

My feeling is that any contribution made to a political group or candidate must be disclosed. The same goes for any corporate donation to any Tax exempt group. The idea that corporations are people and entitled to free speech rights is ludicris. Corporations are not people. The idea that they can speek for thir stockholder is also a fallacy. Most major corporations have other corporations as their majority stockholders. They can and do override the wishes of the individual investor in order to maximize their own agenda's. Disclosure if not an outright ban on political contributions by corporations is the onlything that will save this country from the eventual complete takeover of goverment by corporaions to the detriment of the middle and lower class.

That would be ludicrous, luidicris is a rapper. But according to the Supreme Court, corporations are people and have free speech rights. You progressives tell us that Obamacare is settled law, Roe v.Wade is settled law so Citizens United must be settled law as well. If I earn my living from a corporation, I will support them fighting to keep that industry alive and they must have free speech to do so.

The IRS scandal should be a warning to everyone, no matter what party you belong to. Lois Lerner use to work for the FEC. While there she was targeting religious and conservative groups. Then she brought her talents to the IRS. Giving the IRS that much power is pretty frightening. Now they will have more with the ACA. They will be then going after you. Can you imagine the IRS auditing you and you tell them you do not know, was unaware that was a tax law etc? That is exactly with the IRS is doing now. Nobody knows anything. We saw this with Fast & Furious, Benghazi, and now IRS. Soon to follow will be the AP hearings where everyone will play dumb. Our govt is incompetent and corrupt.

President Obama’s Enemies List was created and published by his campaign......can anybody tell me where he got his list of people he would go after to ruin their lives?

This column is nothing more than a smokescreen to try to keep more secret money flowing into politics. Sen. McConnell states: "Democratic commissioners at the Federal Election Commission, for instance, have pushed for more than two years for a rule that would compel third-party groups to reveal their donors. Democratic commissioners at the Federal Communications Commission support a similar rule for disclosing the donors to groups airing advertisements on issues of concern to the public. This is on the heels of the FCC approving a rule last year that requires broadcasters to list the names of groups that pay for, or want to pay for, ads online. And the Securities and Exchange Commission is considering requiring publicly held companies to disclose political activities." Well, good! I want to know exactly who contributes what to whom. Why is more transparency bad? McConnell tries to insinuate that the Obama administration somehow coerced the IRS into targeting conservative groups because IRS workers are unionized and unions favor Obama. There's been no evidence of anything like that. And let's not forget, the DISCLOSE Act isn't a pet of the Obama administration. If a Republican is elected in 2016 the Act is still in effect. It does not say that only Republican donors have to reveal themselves. Everyone has to. It begs the question: what are you trying to hide Sen. McConnell?

Political contributions have traditionally been a matter of public record. When I donate to a political campaign, I do so in the open. One wonders what Sen. McConnell is afraid that the public will learn if disclosure is mandatory for corporations.

....." if this scandal has taught us anything"........democrats have again proven that their low reputation is well deserved and GOVT IS TOO BIG !!!!!

Your statement of gov't is too big, does that also go for the Federal minimum wage law? It is a known fact that for years the liberals wanted to know who the donors were for these huge political pacs. each time rebuffed by conservatives.. It seems the conservatives still have a lot to hide.

any minimum wage law is a job killer and stymies economic growth....rising tide lifts all boats. Unfortunately as even a blind man can see the economic policies of democrats stops the tides from rising

Ah Sail, you still didn't answer my question. In another column you stated that when it comes to the Minimum wage law, it's ok for the Feds to set it instead of the State of NH. But aren't you one of those leading the charge for "less gov't"? You can't have it both ways. Oh by the way, it really takes a blind person not to see that the conservative economic policies of the past bankrupted this country and almost placed us in a worse depression than the one in 1929. Anyone giving to a political party needs to be known. I would love to know who is help funding Rove's Crossroads Pac. You call for "more transparency", well then put your money where your mouth is and All these Pacs need to be "transparent". Oh..wait..if it is conservative Pac then they can hide their donors.

Your post does not comport with reality--on either minimum wage laws or on the economic recovery since 2008. Here are the facts: http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/jobs/posts/2012/11/02-economy-jobs-greenstone-looney

Bruce, there has been NO economic recovery under Obama. Once again, your "facts" are statistics which do not match the reality on the street.

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